How to say 'good' in French:
'bien' VS 'bon'?

How to say ‘good’ in French? Is it bien or bon? Is bien an adjective or an adverb? Why do we say Un bon film but Le film est bien? So many questions! That can be quite confusing to choose between the two and can be the source of many mistakes. But all will make sense very soon 🙂 

First thing, you should understand that, originally, bon is an adjective and bien is an adverb. So, no matter what, there is no way you can use bon with an action verb like manger or parler. You can say Je parle bien français but you cannot say Je parle bon français. So, we could translate easily:

bon = good
bien = well

But, if it was so simple, why would I write an article about it, right? The problem is that, in French, you can also use bien as an adjective.

‘Good’ = bon

As in English, there are two different ways to use an adjective in French: the first way is when you say “It’s awesome”, the second way is when you say “An awesome movie”. See ? It’s different. In the first case, we used the “awesome” with the verb ‘to be’. In the second, we linked it to a noun. You will see soon why that matters when using bon and bien.

1) Adjective with a VERB (predicative)

Here, the adjective works with a state verb as être, paraître or devenir

– La baguette est bonne. → The baguette is good.

So, as we said it above, no action verb allowed here as the adjective would become an adverb.

2) Adjective with a NOUN (attributive)

Attribute means it’s working in direct relation with a noun:

– Une bonne baguette. → A good baguette.

So, it seems that we can use bon to describe everything we want. So why would I use bien as an adjective? Can’t I say everything with bon?

That’s the point. Actually, you cannot describe anything with bon. Well, as an attribute you can. However, as a predicate you should use bon with just food and nothing else. That’s why, in such a case, we use bien instead.

‘Good’ = bien

So, while bien is technically an adverb, it also works as a substitute of bon in a predicative description.

Bien: adjective with a state VERB (predicative)

With être and other state verbs, we use bien as an adjective: 
– Le film est bien.
→ The movie is good.

Bien: adverb (with an action verb)

With other verbs, we also use bien but this time as an adverb:
– Je dors bien.
→ I sleep well.

So bien cannot, in any case, be used with a noun. It is not possible to say Un bien film.

‘Meilleur’ and ‘Mieux’

Finally, with comparative forms, you should use bien and bon according to what we just saw.

As bon becomes meilleur and bien becomes mieux, we say:

1) With food:
La baguette est meilleure. → The baguette is better.

2) With anything else than food:
Le film est mieux. → The movie is better.

To go further, check our lessons for beginners on the frontpage and the ebook Learn French! You’ll find tons of activities to practice and get better!